Soccer

Beating Red Bulls in New York difficult, not impossible for United

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Beating Red Bulls in New York difficult, not impossible for United

The journey that is the Major League Soccer season is long. The wait for the next campaign is even longer and more painful when it ends in defeat. Against that backdrop D.C. United is fighting for survival Sunday on the road in game two of its Eastern Conference semifinal series with the New York Red Bulls.

While it is fair to say the Red Bulls were the better team last Sunday in the series opener against United, on the scoreboard, where it matters, the advantage was not by much. For all of the Red Bulls possession and chances, they were still only able to pinch one goal in the 72nd minute when Dax McCarty headed home a free kick.

In an aggregate-goal series where road scores are the tiebreaker, the goal was an important one. Still it was only one goal and it gives United a real chance on Sunday in Harrison, New Jersey. It is a chance with the understanding that United will have to dance on the fault line of being the aggressor while at the same time not allowing the Red Bulls to unleash their lethal attack.

There is belief in the United camp that the mission can be accomplished. All season there were doubters as United held a grip on first place in the Eastern Conference for most of the summer. In some ways United seems to enjoy the underdog role and the team’s fighting spirit is a reflection of its head coach Ben Olsen and his approach as a player.

United’s belief is tempered by harsh reality. In winning the Supporter’s Shield for the league’s best record, the Red Bulls were an impressive 12-3-2 at home. In the regular season United was outscored 5-0 in two meetings at Red Bull Arena.

The challenge:

1. United must score. I know it is stating the obvious, but United is the only team in the MLS Cup playoffs to have allowed more goals than it scored. The trade that brought Alvaro Saborio to United was supposed to electrify the team’s attack. The results have been mixed and Saborio has been even used in a substitute’s role. The skill and commitment is there when looking at United’s attack. Saborio with Fabian Espindola at forward can occupy opposing defenders and Chris Rolfe and Nick De Leon on the flanks can open up the field. It has to happen on Sunday. It is that simple. 

2. Injury concern. The play of Chris Pontius over the final month added to the confidence that United’s attack would be brighter in the postseason. Pontius is dealing with a hamstring injury and might not be able to play again on Sunday. Sean Franklin left game one of the series with an ankle injury and that leaves head coach Ben Olsen trying to sort out his backline. Another option at outside back Chris Korb is out for the season with a knee injury and that means United will have to shuffle. Bobby Boswell is back from suspension and he could partner in the middle of the defense with Kofi Opare with Steve Birnbaum being pushed wide. In the regular season Birnbaum started twice on the flank in defense, but it was at left back and not Franklin’s right back position. Luke Mishu and Miguel Aguilar are comfortable on the right side and could factor in Olsen’s thinking.

3. The Red Bulls. It is important to always give credit to the opponent. The Red Bulls are a very good possession and high press team. United’s disrupted that possession early in game one and showed signs of threatening. United will have to be fast and decisive to in its approach to handle the Red Bulls pressure. United also knows too well the peril of dealing with the Red Bulls. In the one result this year with the Red Bulls, United lost what appeared to be a comfortable 2-0 second half lead and had to settle for a 2-2 draw. That can’t happen on Sunday.

MORE D.C. UNITED: U.S. National team calls up Bill Hamid for World Cup qualifier

Game Preview: Washington Spirit vs. Portland Thorns at Audi Field

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USA Today Sports Images

Game Preview: Washington Spirit vs. Portland Thorns at Audi Field

The Washington Spirit, one of nine teams in the National Women's Soccer League, will pay a visit to Audi Field later this summer.

The game versus the Portland Thorns FC is scheduled for August 25 at 8 pm. Tickets can be purchased online via Ticketmaster and start at $31, but will also be available at the door. 

If you're looking for where to watch the Spirit take on the Thorns from the comfort of your own couch, the game will be broadcast on ESPNews starting at 7:38 pm. Dalen Cuff is set to host the pregame show, with USA Women's National Team alumnus Aly Wagner commentating alongside Jenn Hildreth, in her second season of NWSL coverage.

Considering the recent addition of the legendary Wayne Rooney and their move to the new facility, DC United has a lot to celebrate.

Audi Field, which opened in Washington D.C.'s Buzzard Point on July 9, seats 20,000 spectators. For DC United, who previously played at RFK Stadium, the capacity is a step down from the almost 46,000 seats at RFK. But for the Spirit, who call Germantown's Maryland Soccerplex their home, the audience will hopefully far outnumber the Plex's usual 3,000 to 4,000 spectators.

The Spirit have struggled this season, with an unusually high amound of draws and more losses than wins. Though fan favorite and star forward Mallory Pugh is still sidelined with a PCL sprain, the team hopes to improve their ability to close one-goal deficits and gain a sustained offensive advantage. 

Aside from the Audi Field game, the Spirit will host two more home games this season. Utah Royals FC will visit the Soccerplex on Wednesday, August 22, and Sky Blue FC will close out the Spirit's home season on Saturday, September 1. Tickets for either game at their usual field can be purchased through the Washington Spirit's website or upon entry. 

If you haven't paid attention to women's soccer since the USWNT's 2015 World Cup victory, no worries. There's no better time than the present to support women's pro sports. Regardless of the end result, Portland vs. Washington will be a great match-up to watch, and the event has already made DC sports history.

MORE DC SPORTS NEWS:

Wayne Rooney stuns D.C. soccer fans with surprise appearance during World Cup viewing

Wayne Rooney stuns D.C. soccer fans with surprise appearance during World Cup viewing

Washington Dulles International Airport was flooded by soccer fans alike Thursday afternoon awaiting the arrival of one specific person inside the international arrivals terminal: England's all-time goalscorer Wayne Rooney. 

Over 100 fans packed the halls as the 32-year-old made his way out of the airport while posing for pictures and signing autographs. 

Rooney penned a two-and-a-half year guaranteed contract worth about $13 million, which makes him the highest-paid player in D.C. United history. 

He officially becomes available to play for the club beginning July 10, after the transfer window opens. This means his first game could potentially be against Vancouver inside the brand new Audi Field July 10. 

After greeting fans at the airport, Rooney and his camp piled into two blacks SUVs en route to Northeast D.C. 

Little did World Cup fans taking in the England-Belgium match at Wunder Garten know that they were about to be surprised by Wayne Rooney himself. 

In an appearance that lasted just over seven minutes and included a slew of selfies, short conversations and one television interview, Rooney's presence dazzled fans and left others stunned. 

One England native who is now a D.C. resident told me: "We grew up watching him (Rooney) score in the World Cup and that was really important to us. It's hard to believe he just walked through here."

As you would imagine, management at Wunder Garten was thrilled, too.  

"It was great for us because it put us on the map. For someone as famous as Wayne Rooney to come through our establishment, shake hands and hang out, that means a lot. We loved having him here and would love to have him back," said Michael Keller, a member of the bar's management staff. 

 The Englishman will have his hands full as he attempts to put D.C. United back on the map this season. 

Follow Rooney on Twitter and Instagram @WayneRooney.